WASHINGTON: “Today we're dealing with something that we never imagined and is unimaginable,” said Orlando, Florida Mayor Buddy Dyer yesterday of the deadliest shooting in American history.
This as US authorities were trying to determine whether the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida early yesterday was a terrorist act or hate crime.
Dyer said 50 people were killed and 53 wounded.
The gunman, identified as Omar Mateen of Port St Lucie, Florida, was found dead inside the Pulse nightclub after a shootout with the police, according to Orlando Police Chief John Mina.
The shooting began at 2:00am local time (0600 GMT) inside the club and there was also a confrontation between the suspect and an officer working at the club outside the venue, according to local police.
Then the suspect went back into the club to continue shooting and took hostages.
Three hours after the shooting broke out, police shot and killed the suspect during actions to rescue the hostages, said Mina. “It appeared he was organised and well-prepared,” said Mina, adding he had an assault-type weapon and a handgun.
Danny Banks, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), said the shooting, the deadliest in a single shooting in US history, was being investigated as an act of terrorism.
“Do we consider this an act of terrorism? Absolutely, we are investigating this from all parties’ perspectives as an act of terrorism,” said Banks.
Ronald Hopper, an assistant FBI agent in charge, said the authorities now had “suggestions that the individual may have leanings toward” ideology held by the Islamic State (IS) extremist group. But he added that “right now we can’t say definitively”.
Reports said the parents of Mateen, a 29-year-old US-born citizen, were from Afghanistan. ABC News quoted US law enforcement officials as saying that Mateen was “on the radar” of US officials for some time, but was not the target of a specific investigation. US President Barack Obama was briefed by his homeland security and counter-terrorism advisor Lisa Monaco on the tragic shooting, the White House said.
Gun violence in the US has in recent years grabbed headlines, especially the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012 in Connecticut, in which Adam Lanza, 20, entered an elementary school and fatally shot 20 children as well as six adult staff members. The US has also seen a number of cases of multi-victim shootings, such as in Aurora, Colorado in 2012.
A gunman entered a movie theatre and murdered 12 people and injured 70 others. But despite these and other incidents, powerful gun lobbying groups such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) have successively blocked Congress from curbing gun rights.
Gun violence has not been a major political issue this presidential election.
The NRA has endorsed Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump, who attacked his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton for trying to curb gun rights endowed by the Constitution.
IS has called on followers to hit the US and Europe during Ramadaan.
In a recording released online in late May, IS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani called for more terror attacks against Western targets.
US authorities have been on high alert against terror attacks since the shooting last December in San Bernadino, California, where an armed radicalised couple killed 14 people in an act of terrorism.
US intelligence and police leaders have repeatedly warned about the danger of “lone wolf” attacks in the US by terror groups or radicalised individuals.
James Clapper, director of US National Intelligence, warned in February that IS was the US “number one terrorist threat” as it was attempting to launch direct attacks on the US homeland.